“Surrey needs a strong voice in Ottawa and I will continue advocating for the city” Mayor Dianne Watts
In an exclusive interview with Asian Journal Mayor Dianne Watts talked about her term as the Mayor and her plans for future.
Asian Journal: You have had wonderful 3 terms as Mayor of Canada’s fastest growing city and now you have decided to join Federal Politics. It is not unexpected but many people want to know how will Surrey fit into your federal vision, if at all?
Dianne Watts: I have been on council for 9 years; I have been the Mayor for 9 years. Surrey is 2nd largest city in the province and it needs very strong voice in Ottawa. Now I am stepping into Federal politics, and for sure I would continue advocating for Surrey to get dollars in the city for projects like Transportation.
Asian Journal: You have led Surrey through its phase of transformation and have achieved a lot but the rising crime is a sore point, what you have to say about it to the people of Surrey?
Dianne Watts: The issue around crime has been there for many decades, I think when you have city that is growing quickly and has very young population there are to be going issues. It’s all about making sure that you are addressing the issues. It is all about partnership and collaboration between three levels of government and community. What we can do is put in police officers, which we have done, we have added 95 in April and we have another 47 which has been passed at the police committee. But there are other things that we have to have in place, and I think we have not kept up with supports that Vancouver has, when I say ‘we’ it means Provincial Government. It’s about housing, it’s about people having access to mental health and addictions, and it’s about support services. As we add police officers we also have to ask Province to re align their court services and supports within the court system. The jurisdiction under most of that is Provincial government. We have to continue to advocate receiving our fair share of support. We can add police, but that is not the only issue. And again we have very young population, we can do our best in terms of programming through recreation centers but again it is for Provincial government to get those resources in Surrey. It’s all about strengthening the relationships/ partnerships with the Provincial government and we continue to do that.
“I have emotional connect with Surrey. I have raised my family here. It’s important to make sure that we have best city that we can possibly have and make sure we are advocating for it. I will continue to advocate for Surrey if I am elected and sent to Ottawa.”
Asian Journal: As Surrey grows, demand for education is also increasing. What you think should be done to raise the bar for the education, especially the technical streams?
Dianne Watts: I am very pleased that the Premier has appointed Peter Fassbender as the education minister and Amrik Virk as minister of advanced education. For us it is important that residents are able access to their choice of education. Stay here, study and have jobs close to home. Funding for education comes from Provincial government. Good amount of funding has always gone into Vancouver. We have to constantly remind the Province that we are the fastest growing city, a third of our population is under the age of 19 and 70 % growth is going to take placed south of Fraser.
Growing from a city that was a residential suburb of Vancouver into the second largest regional center of metro Vancouver, Surrey needs lot of attention. We have done number things as City, we have our Investment Action Plan, and we have Innovation Boulevard where we are pulling high tech jobs in health technology, because we want to build those sectors. We have had good partnerships with Provincial government on that front. And we are looking at number of other sectors as well.
Asian Journal: Approximately 1200 people come to live in Surrey every month. Most of them are new immigrants, what is City doing to accommodate and engage this growing number of people?
Dianne Watts: In Surrey we have 95 languages that our spoken. This diversity is the richness of our city. A person residing in the city needs to feel at home in the city. We need to see that all the ethnic diversities are represented. We have refugees coming to the city and then BC Housing is placing people within our city. Unfortunately, when the province and federal government decide to bring people in the city they don’t communicate with us, this aspect we need to strengthen. We need to make sure that kids coming from a war torn country or outside succeed. And for that we need the support of other levels of government to make sure that people who come here succeed in their life.
We have a number of advisory committees where we have representation from diverse communities and they tell us about what things are important to different communities and how City can engage everyone. Surrey Fusion festival is one such example. We won an International for the festival recently; it enriches the culture of city and makes the visitors more aware about the diversity of our city.
Asian Journal: You have led the city for 9 years. What are top two or three things that you are really proud of?
Dianne Watts: When I was elected a Mayor, the first task at hand was shifting the city from being a suburb to Vancouver to a complete city with its own identity. We are now second metropolitan core in the region. Every city needs a vibrant downtown core; building different town centers and connecting those town centers was a vision and we worked on it. So for me, I feel very blessed that I got a chance to work for city where people and communities are really engaged in making their city the best city. We had a vision and support from everyone—Business community and residents—residing in the city that helped us achieve the transformation.
One dream project…Rapid Transit is one project I would have liked to be completed in my term. But it is dependent of various approvals. I think South of Fraser is being penalized with tolls and LRT will enable us to achieve new goals and growth.
Asian Journal: When Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline will begin expansion, it will pass through the city. Do you think our city is ready to meet any challenges that might come during the operation of the pipeline, how prepared is the city to deal will spills and other hazards?
Dianne Watts: The pipeline has been present for past 50 years. If you look at pipelines or rails, pipelines are the safest. The issue is twining the pipeline. As a city we had applied for intervener status in the project and we have got. The twining of pipeline through residential areas is an issue.
I think there is an opportunity in Robert’s Bank rail corridor that goes into Delta Port that needs to be realized. It would be significant advantage for Kinder Morgan to explore that and not to expand the pipeline through the residential areas or under the Fraser River. Besides that it’s up to Kinder Morgan and NEB to look at doing things differently.